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-> Map of the Waikato region

Our Waikato travel tips:

Waikato - Hamilton Gardens

  • The well signposted Thermal Explorer Highway runs through the Waikato region and then continues further via Rotorua and Taupo, all the way to Napier.
  • Hamilton is one of the fast growing cities in New Zealand, stroll along the Waikato River and through the centre with its shops, galleries and museum. A visit to the Hamilton Gardens is free and they are right next to State Highway 1 - if you are passing by this is a great spot to stretch your legs.Waikato tips - Maori Pataka - New Zealand travel tips
  • Raglan is one of the trendiest surf spots in the country, a cool place not just for wave addicts.
  • Waitomo's karst landscape is the best area to explore spectacular caves and see glowworms.
  • Te Aroha pioneered New Zealand tourism before Rotorua, the sleepy village still offers beautiful buildings, plenty of walks and even its own geyser.
  • After the Hobbit film trilogy the original film location for Hobbiton has been much better preserved than after the Lord of the Rings films, the detour to Matamata and the Prancing Pony pub is certainly recommended for Tolkien fans.

Waikato region has two spectacular landscapes - one above ground, the other below. In both cases, nature has been generous

Waikato is right in the heart of the North Island. The main city, Hamilton, is just 90 minutes from Auckland and Rotorua.

On the lush surface, the scenery is green to the extreme. Fertile soils, reliable rainfall and kind temperatures have created a pastoral heaven.

Below the surface, miracles have been wrought with water and limestone. Vast cave systems, huge sink holes and underground streams provide huge scope for adventure.

Waikato was the scene of significant battles during the Maori Land Wars of the mid 19th century. Visit the monuments and museums and discover the fierce history of the region.

In the fast-growing city of Hamilton, the serpentine beauty of the Waikato River is maximised at every opportunity. You can discover parks, gardens and river walks where the forethought of the town planners is plain to see.

Waikato travel tips - Mangapohue Natural Bridge walk near Waitomo CavesThe mighty Waikato River travels through the region. At 425 kilometres from end to end, it is the country’s longest river. As well as providing recreational opportunities, the river drives eight hydro dams.

The Waitomo Caves were formed over 30 million years ago, and drip by drip they’re still changing. The natural beauty of stalactites and stalagmites lit by the blue light of glow worms has to be seen to be believed.

On a Matamata sheep farm, you can visit the remnants of Hobbiton, the hobbit village created for the Lord of the Ring’s movie trilogy. View the hobbit holes and find out how the set was created on a guided tour.

See here for hotels in the Waikato region.

Source: Tourism New Zealand

Waikato region highlights

  • Waikato travel tips - Riff Raff Memorial in HamiltonHamilton: This booming city may be more attractive to newcomers and students than to travellers, but the Waikato Museum with its Maori collection (including a beautifully carved ancient Maori canoe) and the Hamilton Gardens just east of town are good reasons to stop. At the themed gardens, surprisingly you can step into landscapes and buildings from India, Italy and China, as well as study a pre-european Maori garden with lots of fantastic carvings and carved houses. If you like the Rocky Horror Picture Show then check out the Riff Raff sculpture in town, in a funky square dedicated to local Richard O'Brien. Further north outside the city you may want to explore the homestead of Henry Chidley Reynolds, the home of New Zealand's famous Anchor butter brand ('Woodlands Historic Homestead and Gardens').
  • Waitomo Caves: South of Hamilton you'll find a real fairytale world Waikato travel tips - fossilised oyster beds in a rock near Waitomoof limestone caves and bush. Highly popular with travellers, these are not just any caves, but a huge variety of all sorts of activities are offered to explore those labyrinths, huge caverns, underwater rivers and stalactite wonders, complete with the starry magical ceilings full of glowworms. You don't have to spend 5 hours blackwater rafting in tubes, jumping down underground waterfalls or abseiling from cave ceilings, there are plenty of other options to enjoy the glowworms and rock formations! Anything from gliding on an underground lake in a boat to tough cave expeditions is possible. Even just going for a walk in the nearby bush is special, because the limestone formations are a general part of the magic landscape around here. Otorohanga nearby is the location of one of the leading Kiwi and wildlife parks in New Zealand.
  • Waitomo to Marokopa: If you have a bit of spare time check out the many highlights Waikato travel tips - Marokopa Falls near Waitomoon the road to Marokopa beach! The amazing Mangapohue Natural Bridge is a gorge cut into farmland, with a double arch and fossilised oyster beds in rocks. Piripiri Cave is a half open crack in the earth with stairs underneath stalactites. Marokopa Falls are more impressive than the average New Zealand waterfall and definitely worth a visit. Continue along the twisting road to Awakino if you are headed for Taranaki, the reward is an 80 m walking tunnel through a cliff face onto a remote black sand beach at Waikawau, or continue further north towards Kawhia and Raglan.
  • Waikato travel tips - Raglan surf beachRaglan: The long left-hand surf break at Manu Bay is famous amongst surfers, no matter what weather you'll always see someone ready for the challenge. The vast beach and the nice lookouts all the way to Whale Bay are only part of the reason why Raglan is so popular. The town itself is a funky place to stroll around, hang out and soak in the holiday feeling.
  • Kawhia: Further south (via the Bridal Falls from Raglan) Waikato travel tips - Kawhia marae - Maori meeting house on the waterfrontyou'll find one of those timeless and peaceful New Zealand places where time stands still, the quiet harbour village of Kawhia with its important waterfront meeting house, fishing jetty and endless west coast beach nearby. Actually Kawhia also has a hot water beach, much less crowded than in the Coromandel, but only in a small area not far from the beach access.
  • Te Aroha with its hot springs, health spa and Geyser attracted overseas tourists since the 19th century, Waikato travel tips - Te Aroha Domainbefore Rotorua took the prime spot. The old bath house museum in the scenic Te Aroha domain is a great reminder of those 'good' old times. The Mokena geyser in the same domain erupts daily but is not very reliable, it is probably smaller than you'd expect... The ranges behind Te Aroha have countless walkways, some of them to historic mining sites. Nearby Paeroa is becoming famous for its second hand and antique shops. Te Kuiti is famous for its sheep shearing heroes and records. For Thames please refer to our separate Coromandel tips.

Best Waikato walks

  • Waikato River Walks - 11 km of walking tracks along the river, Hamilton
  • Waikato travel tips - Mangapohue Natural Bridge walk near Waitomo CavesHakarimata Scenic Reserve - a range of walking tracks, access from Brownlee Avenue or Parker Road, Ngaruawahia
  • Mount Te Aroha - many trails, including the Mokena Hou geyser and hot springs, Te Aroha Domain, Te Aroha
  • Waiorongomai Valley - walking tracks and historic sites, south of Te Aroha
  • Wairere Falls Track - a 153 m high waterfall (3-4 h return), Goodwin Road, further south of Te Aroha
  • Bridal Veil Falls - a 55 m high waterfall (20 min return), Kawhia Road between Raglan and Kawhia
  • Te Awamutu Rose Gardens - stroll between 2,500 rose bushes, Gorst Avenue, Te Awamutu
  • Te Waihou Walkway - with the crystal clear 'Blue Spring' (up to 3 h return), access from Whites Road or Leslie Road, Putaruru
  • Ruakuri Walk - gorge walk with arches and caves (45 min loop), Ruakuri Caves carpark, Waitomo
  • Mangapohue Natural Bridge - wonderful limestone gorge with an archway (20 min return), Te Anga Road, 25 km west of Waitomo
  • Piripiri Cave Walk - platform to view stalactites (5 min), Te Anga Road, 29 km west of Waitomo
  • Marokopa Falls Walk - 35 m high falls with bush walk (20 min), Te Anga Road, 31 km west of Waitomo
  • Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari - mainland island with bush walks, Tari Road, Pukeatua
  • Pirongia Forest Park - a range of walks, for example the Bell Track to the tallest Kahikatea tree (66,5 m, 6 h return), Kaniwhaniwha car park, Limeworks Loop Road, west of Pirongia

Best Waikato lookouts

  • Hakarimata Summit Track - with a viewing tower (3 h return), Brownlee Avenue, Ngaruawahia
  • Waikato travel tips - view to Marokopa beachKarioi Summit - spectacular views from top, fastest via the Wairake Track on Ruapuke Road (2-3 h one way), south of Raglan
  • Wharauroa and Mahaukura Lookouts in Pirongia Forest Park (2 h one way), access from O'Shea Road, west of Te Awamutu and Hamilton
  • Ruapane Lookout on Tirohanga Track, Pirongia Forest Park (1,5 h one way), Corcoran Road, northwest of Pirongia
  • Whakapipi Lookout, Mt Te Aroha - views of Te Aroha (45 mins one way), starting at Mokena Geyser

Best Waikato museums

  • Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato, Grantham Street, Hamilton
  • Waikato travel tips - Te Kuiti sheep shearing monumentFirth Tower Museum, altes Homestead with Turm, Tower Road, Matamata
  • Raglan and District Museum, Wainui Road, Raglan
  • Te Awamutu Museum, Roche Street, Te Awamutu
  • Te Aroha & Districts Museum - in an old bath house, Whitaker Street, Te Aroha
  • Waikato Coalfields Museum, Harlock Place, Huntly
  • Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre, Waitomo Caves

Waikato region map

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Waikato travel tips - Hamilton city centre

Waikato travel tips - art in the Hamilton city centre

Waikato travel tips - entrance to the Hamilton Gardens

Waikato travel tips - Hamilton Gardens

Waikato travel tips - Hamilton Gardens

Waikato travel tips - Hamilton museum

Waikato travel tips - a Waitomo cave

Waikato travel tips - Marokopa welcome near Waitomo

Waikato travel tips - Waikawau tunnel entrance

Waikato travel tips - Waikawau tunnel

Waikato travel tips - Raglan surf beach

Waikato travel tips - Kawhia beach with hot water

Waikato travel tips - Te Aroha shops

Waikato travel tips - Hamilton Gardens

Waikato travel tips - Hamilton Gardens

Waikato tips - sculpture in Hamilton

Waikato tips - Raglan surfing

Waikato travel tips - Kawhia marae - Maori meeting house on the waterfront

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